Pre-military program a new twist on turning a life around

A few area residents may remember a time when some young men headed down the wrong road in life were given two options: Join the military or go to jail.

Nothing in Ohio’s statute books prescribes such a method of dealing with miscreants. Still, informally and unofficially, some judges, sheriffs and police chiefs made the offer.

Sometimes it worked. Young men who seemed destined to pursue criminal careers instead found their lives turned around by the military. Some stayed in until retirement. Others, using skills learned while in uniform, became productive citizens. A few, of course, did not benefit from service.

In a substantially altered form, that strategy of dealing with some criminals is back.

It is the Pre-Military Program at the Belmont Correctional Institute near St. Clairsville. Only in its infancy, the program provides selected inmates with 12 weeks of training intended to prepare them to join the armed forces after they are released from custody.

One major difference between Belmont Correctional’s program and the old approach is that now, men who already have served time behind bars are being offered the option. That may be a better strategy simply because those taking advantage of it already have had a taste of prison life.

The program isn’t for everyone. For example, only those convicted of certain offenses are accepted. The military will not accept people convicted of serious crimes.

Fourteen men entered the initial round of the program in December. Four were unable to complete the course, for various reasons.

But 10 young men recently graduated from the program. Some seem eager to seize the second chance they are being offered.

Good for them – and good for officials at Belmont Correctional for offering the program. No one can say yet how well it will work to turn lives around, but it certainly appears to be a promising strategy. Correctional institutions that lack similar initiatives should consider it.